On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Risky venture for promoters

For politicians, they do not have to submit their speeches in advance to the police and authorities.

In the case of concert promoters, they not only have to apply for a police permit since it’s a gathering of more than five people, they also have to submit a copy of the lyrics, translated into Bahasa Malaysia, of the songs to be performed by the artistes to the authorities.

Never mind if they are hip-hop songs or indie music, which might make little sense to the officials, but a Bahasa Malaysia translation still needs to be handed in.

There’s no exception. Whether it’s a drama or a musical, the procedure is the same.

God knows what they do with the scripts and lists of songs, but that’s the rule.

If concert promoters questioned the relevance, they would be told by the officials that they were merely doing their duty.

How and who set these stupid rules is still a wonder to most people.

Furthermore, organisers have to submit the diagram of the seat arrangements and pictures of the concert venue.

Fortunately, the job is easier now because such diagrams and photos can be downloaded from the websites.

Currently, the Information, Communications and Culture Ministry calls the shots. Its committee of officials can either make it easy for the promoters, businessmen who have invested millions to bring in their respective artistes, or make it a living hell that would bankrupt them.

The committee comprises representatives from the ministry, Home Ministry, Housing and Local Government Ministry, Tourism Malaysia, the police, Customs, Islamic Development Malaysia, Inland Revenue Board, Tourism Board Malaysia and City Hall.

Known as Puspal or the Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes, it essentially vets the suitability of promoters who wish to bring in foreign artistes.

But that’s not all. Even if Puspal decides to be flexible, there is always the political factor. As long as you have the likes of PAS Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi, who opposes concerts on the grounds that there will be free mingling of men and women, there will always be a headache.

Even Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, who is perceived to be a liberal, objected to the staging of the MTV World concert in his constituency recently.

And it’s not just PAS as even officials at federal government agencies have been difficult.

Tan Sri Syed Yusuf Syed Nasir, the man who brought in Michael Jackson for a two-night concert in 1996, lost RM1mil when his Rod Stewart concert was cancelled at the last minute by the authorities who said it was too near Merdeka celebrations.

In 2008, when Avril Lavigne performed in Kuala Lumpur, PAS staged a strong protest against it. But what was incredulous was that the then Arts, Culture and Heritage Ministry agreed with the stand of PAS who cited the singer as being “sexy”. What’s wrong with these people? In the end, it had taken the intervention of the then prime minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to let the show go on.

There have been many other cases where help needed to be secured from the very top. Come on, surely prime ministers shouldn’t be dragged into such trivial matters.

But that, unfortunately, has been the case when bureaucrats get carried away in imposing their prejudices and jaundiced view of things. Flip-flop moves, indecisiveness, fickle-mindedness and incompetency have all turned show business, which involves huge capital, in Malaysia into a highly risky business.

Our reputation is so bad that international artistes like Beyonce have bypassed Malaysia. Lady Gaga performed in Singapore last month, but we know that will never ever happen here, not even in our dreams. Even in Indonesia, holding concerts is much easier. Super sexy Kylie Minogue performed there in June.

There is also a serious shortage of theatre halls in Kuala Lumpur.

Those under the jurisdiction of the Government, for example Istana Budaya, also have their restrictions and peculiarities which make some musicals a no-go.

We will just have to decide whether we want theatre, shows, musicals and concerts, which is part of any vibrant cosmopolitan international city, or just remain culturally-dead, failing to realise that when such events are staged, tourists from the region would converge here to spend their money.

Shakira will perform in Singapore next month. The irony is that she offered to perform in Kuala Lumpur and was ready to comply with the local requirements. But most local promoters were not ready to risk their millions of ringgit, fearful that the concert could be cancelled at the last minute by the authorities.

The problem here is that too many people want to make it their business when it comes to show business.